Sony Ericsson's K850i Cybershot

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The K850i Cybershot cellphone exemplifies Sony Ericsson's distinctive lineup. It bears vice and virtue in equal measure. It is its own thing.
First, however, hardware: at $450 or so unlocked, the K850i is an international 3G handset with quad-band GSM, HSDPA@3.6Mbps, a 5 megapixel camera and an accelerometer. It's about four inches long, two wide, and a couple of centimeters deep. It weighs 118 grams: it's not a brick, but it's not a miniature, either.
There's a Memory Stick Micro and microSD card slot, 40 Mb of internal flash, PictBridge USB for direct output to photo-printers, and various backlighting color options. The display resolution is 240x320 pixels. An FM radio is built-in. There's Bluetooth, but no WiFi.
First impressions are of typical Sony-Ericsson stylishness. And as powerful as it is, it's just a little too swish for its own good. The system's user interface is extravagant and pretty, but a little slow to respond. The menu system is uncluttered and easily navigable, but it's often hard to find what you're looking for. The touchscreen selectors, physical keys and that rail of a D-Pad are well designed, but fiddly and unintuitive in combination. The 5MP snapper takes nice shots, but with a time-to-shoot of at least 5 seconds (and considerable shutter lag even when it's awake) it still feels like a cellphone. The picture blogging feature is neat, though trying to type on that art installation of a keypad isn't.
It's the software, however, that S.E. is pushing, and it's not hard to see why. Among the goodies are 3D games, simple photo and video editing suites, a bizarre image morphing program, an RSS feed reader, the NetFront web browser, and the usual PIM suspects.
Of the 3D games, the tennis and Need for Speed titles are flashiest, but the accelerometer-driven version of Marble Madness is the one most likely to get you flattened by a truck. What iPhone SDKers are just now brewing, K850i users have been enjoying for months — though apart from the addictive controls, it's not a particularly good rendition of that classic game.
The PlayNow music store was not tested, as it wouldn't consent to operate without a better network connection than what it could acquire. If you don't have decent HSDPA in the air, this machine's best considered a dumb player, music-wise. The speaker is loud and clear for a cellphone, mind you.
Other interesting programs include TrackID, which hooks into a song-identification service, and Autocam, which takes screenshots of whatever's on the display. There don't seem to be a lot of third-party apps about, but Java developers interested in the series may head for the Developer World website.
The K850i is a good phone that's not altogether comfortable with its own triple play of 5MP camera, cellphone and music player. This $400 3G handset can deal with anything you throw at it—so long as you learn to deal with its limitations first.

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